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Asbestos City

Wittenoom, Australia, lies in the Pilbara region of the Western Australian desert, but you won’t find it on modern maps. The name has even been erased from road signs. But at one time, it was a thriving mining town.

From 1943 to the mine's closure in 1966, more than 165,000 tons of asbestos were extracted and shipped out of Wittenoom. However, poor public knowledge about the dangers of asbestos allowed the toxic dust to be spread throughout the town; it clung to the miners' clothing, infecting homes, gardens, and schools. Of the 20,000 men, women, and children who worked or lived in Wittenoom in these decades, it is predicted that roughly 25% will die of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. It wasn't until 1978, however, that growing health concerns would lead to a full-scale evacuation.

Since the evacuation, the Australian government has gone to great lengths to erase the town from maps and even history. As a 2013 flier said, "Visiting Wittenoom is not worth risking your life." However, a few stubborn longtime residents are reportedly still living there. The story of Wittenoom is one of Five Ghost Towns Abandoned after Disasters that you can read at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Five Years)


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